The periodical publication of journals, reviews, and magazines is a phenomenon of Western European culture closely tied to the evolving hegemony of secular science and especially technology in the 17th century. During the 16th century, print had replaced manuscript as the primary mode for circulating philosophical and scientific ideas, expanding and in some senses actually creating the idea of a “community of scholars,” an abstract notion whose real impact as an historic event is best witnessed in the continental effect of the publication of Galileo’s manuscripts. One can safely agree with Elizabeth Eisenstein’s assertion in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) that the medium and not the message was the subject of the trials of Galileo. At any rate, the development of serialization in learned printing created a mode of communication eventually constructed around the essay because of its discursive predisposition toward scrutiny and knowledge. Periodical writing adds to these distinctive attributes of the essay temporal and spatial qualities that came to define the way in which European culture views knowledge. The serial nature of periodicals contributes significantly to the modern concept of learning as tentative and utilitarian. With each week and each month, new ideas appear to alter the contours of or entirely displace those that came before them.
Learning is no longer limited to the learned or the specialist as journals and reviews expand their circulation and accessibility, with the result that the simple pursuit of knowledge for its own sake steadily gives way to knowledge for the sake of its useful application to industry, trade, and economics. It is thus no great exaggeration to say that periodicals botb initially defined and subsequently fostered mass communication and international media, seminal attributes of Modernism.
The two works usually cited as the first examples of the periodical appeared respectively in France and England in the same year, 1665; however, Denis de Sallo’s Le Journal des Savants came out in Paris in January, predating Henry Oldenburg’s London publication of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (March 1665) by two months. These were quickly followed by a number of imitations and plagiarisms across Europe, of which the most important and independent offspring was Il Giornale de’ Letterati (The journal of letters), first published in Rome in 1668 and continued through 1675, when it was reconceived and issued as a new series until 1769. Among the attempts at periodical journalism before 1665 in both France and England, the best—and perhaps the first—is the Bureau d’Addresse, which was edited and printed by Théophraste Renaudot between 1633 and 1642, and was composed entirely of summaries of the current activities in the sciences and literature, much of the information garnered through court gossip and correspondence. Jean Loret’s Muse Historique ran through 1651 in Paris and spawned a London imitator in 1656 called the Sportive Wit: The Muses Merriment, both interesting early examples of what Walter Graham (1926) identifies as the “periodical of amusement.” This category of serial publication has its early master later in the century when Peter Motteux, the Huguenot journalist and professional writer, began
to issue in France his journal Le Mercure Galant (1672–1724; The gallant Mercury; then Le Mercure de France, 1724–1965), which dealt in articles about court news and gossip.
In January 1692 Motteux started the English-language Gentleman’s Journal, more or less a miscellany of domestic and foreign news, questions and answers on history and philosophy, and news of the learned world, particularly abstracts of learned publications.
The Gentleman’s Journal averaged 64 pages with each issue and was a substantial forerunner of the later achievements in this kind of format, Edward Cave’s Gentleman’s Magazine (1731) and the Edinburgh-based Scots Magazine (1739). Still, at its inception, the periodical eschewed commentary and analysis in favor of abstracts and summaries, which is certainly the hallmark of both the Journal des Savants and the Philosophical Transactions. Only with the 1690s, and particularly in England, did the periodical become the focus of public debate and controversy, a development brought about in part by the innovative combination of the polemical style of the pamphlet with the learned periodical’s objective of conveying scientific and philosophical knowledge.
Two aspects of 17th-century English prose writing contribute significantly to the emergence of what the modern reader would recognize as the periodical style: the pamphlet wars during and after the Civil War, especially those dealing with Protestant controversy; and the evolution of character sketches from their modern beginning in Joseph Hall’s refashioning of the Characters of Theophrastus in his Characters of Vertues and Vices (1608), with its subsequent secular cousin, Sir Thomas Overbury’s enormously successful and influential characterization in A Wife (1613). What develops steadily in both kinds of writing is a sensitivity to voice, and especially a rhetoric that takes up the intense awareness of the private self which characterizes the essay from its inception at the hand of Montaigne and applies that language of intimate experience and personal belief to a very public kind of work, the political and religious pamphlet.
Character writing like that of Hall, Overbury, and John Webster, however, lacked any kind of genuinely psychological element of the sort that makes Montaigne’s Essais compelling. This rhetorical development can be located in the religious pamphlets of selfexamination popular among Protestants, of which the finest example is, perhaps, John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), which takes the tradition of the spiritual autobiography into its most psychologically self-conscious mode.
By the 1680s, a type of periodical writing began to appear in which contemporary issues and controversies were addressed not in the cold language of abstract and summary but in the rhetorical heat of journalistic dialogue. Roger L’Estrange can be said to have pioneered this format in his periodical the Observator (1681–87), with its “dialogue papers” in which various characters debate issues in dramatic voices. Perhaps the most eccentric and compelling of L’Estrange’s imitators is Charles Leslie, whose Rehearsal (1704–09) was structured around the editor’s debates with a character called simply “the Countryman” who posed controversial questions concerned with contemporary issues of Church and State, emulating L’Estrange’s question-and-answer format. Leslie was a Tory who began his periodical in direct response to John Tutchin’s
Whig revival of the Observator in 1702. This partisanship in journalism, growing out of the political divisions, left over from the Civil War, did much to advance the characterization of voice in periodical writing by establishing an implicit tradition of political identification and opposition in the majority of journalistic undertakings. The paradigm is evident in what are probably the earliest examples of journalism in English, the royalist paper Mercurius Aulicus (January 1643) and its opposition response Mercurius Britannicus (August 1643). This dialectic in the English periodical press was continued in such 18th-century publications as George Ridpath’s Whig Flying-Post (1695–1731) and Abel Roper’s Tory Post-Boy (1695–1736). In part, the domination of the English-language periodical as the exemplary model across Europe can be traced to this volatile format of partisan controversy in the public periodical press in England. The instability of the social experiment of religious tolerance in England after the Civil War, with its explicit protagonist-antagonist relationship between Anglican and Dissenter, Tory and Whig, created a literary model for public debate that quickly presented itself in the three most influential examples of this genre: the Athenian Gazette (1690–97), the Tatler (1709–11), and the Spectator (1711–1712, 1714).
Throughout the 17th century in Europe, there was a sharp division between what we have called “learned” and “amusement” journals, particularly in evidence when we contrast the Philosophical Transactions and its professional readership with something like the News from Parnassus, first issued 2 February 1680, which was written in the style of a roman-àclef, as a sort of political entertainment, in part a parody of the Spanish novelist and essayist Francisco de Quevedo, whose work Los sueños (1627; Visions) had been translated by Roger L’Estrange in 1667. John Dunton, however, saw a way to bring together the popular and the professional periodical press in his Athenian Gazette, begun 17 March 1690 and printed thereafter twice weekly on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Dunton assembled a “Society of Athenian Gentlemen,” more or less a parody of the Royal Society that included, along with Dunton himself, the mathematics teacher Richard Sault, the Church of England divine Samuel Wesley (father of John and Charles Wesley), the polymath John Norris and, on occasion, Daniel Defoe. The Gazette set out “to endeavour the Answering any reasonable Question which should be proposed.” Here for the first time knowledge was applied not abstractly but in response to the specific needs of readers; Dunton openly described this method as one that mixed common sense with scholarly research. The Gazette listed sources from Aristotle to the Philosophical Transactions among its resources. The content ranged from the admirably eclectic to the bizarrely arcane, including essays on natural science, theology, mathematics, and Hebrew and Greek grammar alongside folklore, domestic truisms, and advice for the lovelorn.
The paper was printed as two columns on a folio half-sheet and often answered a dozen questions, although single-issue topics did occur. The writing was not yet fully evolved into the periodical style of Addison and Steele, but it was recognizably essayistic and employed polemic and opinion in a way unlike any previous periodical.
Of especial interest is Dunton’s awareness of his readership. He identified a significant number of women among his following and quickly produced a special issue for the female reader which appeared on the first Tuesday of every month, becoming the first periodical published specifically for women. Dunton’s format combined the dissemination of knowledge and information with opinion and analysis, producing a critical journal which was at the same time the first “democratic” periodical, intended for a broadly representative readership in terms of gender, class, religion, and education. His questionand-answer practice took the dialogue technique in periodical writing to its next step where the readers themselves engaged directly in the discourse; Dunton established a convention that became the letter to the editor in the Tatler and Spectator and remained a staple rhetorical tactic in periodicals from the Rambler through to the Atlantic Monthly.
John Dunton had many emulators, beginning within months of his first Athenian Gazette when Jean de la Crose published his monthly History of Learning (July 1691).
Retitled Works of the Learned, this periodical continued until 1712 and followed Dunton in breaking with the use of abstracts to convey information about the book world. De la Crose is credited with being the first journalist to offer his reader actual reviews and critical articles. Peter Motteux took the further step of publishing original work by a wide range of contributors in his previously mentioned Gentleman’s Journal (1692–94), described by George Sherburn (in The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, 1948) as “more like a modern magazine than any other periodical for years to come.” The last of the innovators of the 1690s was Edward (Ned) Ward, whose London Spy (1698–1700) took characterization and voice outside of the question-and-answer, letter to the editor, and dialogue models into the realm of true personae. In each issue, Ward used a stereotypical character like the Quack or the Gossip to take his readers into the day-today activities of London life. His language is colloquial, even coarse and brutal at times, but Ward made human interest stories and the business of the city street a category of information just as desirable to the reader and profitable to the publisher as the knowledge of the scholars or the news of government strategies. The best periodical writing of the 1690s is distinguished by its evocation of voices representative of the spectrum of urban life. Periodicals now spoke in recognizably contemporary and individual ways, sounding Tory or Whig, high or low, and increasingly reflecting national characteristics. A critically informed voice that was private at its origin but public in its effect was one of the significant contributions made by Dunton’s Athenian Gazette to the periodical style; it remained, however, for Richard Steele and Joseph Addison to create the illusion of informed conversation and in so doing bring the periodical essay to its fulfillment in the Tatler and the Spectator.
If the 1690s had been a period of frenetic innovation in periodical writing, the first decade of the 18th century was one of proliferation. There were 21 periodicals in London in 1702, increasing to 31 in 1707 and 50 in 1711 when the Spectator made its appearance.
Most of these were irregular and shortlived publications, struggling to define a market as reliable and lucrative as the one that served Dunton’s Athenian for seven years. Richard Steele made the next significant impact upon that market with the Tatler, which ran to 271 numbers, sold for a penny—although the first four issues were offered free to engage an immediate readership—and was offered to the public three times a week, on the days when the London mail coaches left for the country. For all of its stylistic innovations, the Tatler is obviously just as important for its acute business sense, using the now common strategy of the loss leader to attract a market and attaching itself to a readership outside of London to extend that market as far as possible through—in Steele’s words—“the convenience of the post.” In its way, the Tatler was the first periodical to use national identity as both a selling and an editorial point, resolving as the first paper declares to settle “a correspondence in all parts of the known and knowing world,” which amounted to the coffeehouses of London, perhaps the first journalistic designation of that urban precinct as “the City.” Steele wrote 188 Tatlers, Addison 42, with contributions from other sources filling out the run. The Tatler combined the streetwise observations of Ned Ward’s London Spy with review writing after the fashion of Motteux and editorializing in the manner Defoe had initiated with his Review of the Affairs of France (1704–13). But it is the moral tone and literariness of the Tatler that signify its originality. Steele fashioned the periodical essay in journalism by combining the intimacy of the essay form as derived from Montaigne with the dramatic personae which had gradually evolved into the journalistic voices of the popular press. Steele’s persona in the Tatler, Isaac Bickerstaff, spoke with the inflections of a city gentleman; he sounded as if he were speaking to the reader over a fashionable cup of coffee. He was the first voice of the editor, informed, erudite, but at ease with his authority. It was a rhetorical innovation that seized the imagination of the reading public—and sold very well.
Like the Tatler, the Spectator was a folio half-sheet, but it appeared daily between 1 March 1711 and 6 December 1712, running to a total of 555 numbers with the writing shared by Addison and Steele. Addison resumed publication on his own 18 June 1714, producing another 80 papers through 20 December 1714. The Spectator was one of the few periodicals to survive Bolingbroke’s half-penny tax and consequently sold at twopence, twice the cost of the Tatler. A more intellectually ambitious periodical than any of its predecessors, the Spectator developed the critical essay to a sophisticated degree through Addison’s papers on Milton’s Paradise Lost and other literary topics. It also continued to employ and enhance the persona of the worldly editor whose subtle, informed, and often ironic voice guides the reader with patriarchal authority; where Steele’s Bickerstaff was part of the world he moved in and seemed to feel its moral dilemmas, Addison’s Mr. Spectator is often detached, his stoicism at times giving way to cynicism. The success of Addison’s rhetorical methods in the Spectator encouraged wide imitation, notably Eliza Haywood’s Female Spectator, and was the inspiration for Samuel Johnson’s resurrection of the periodical essay in his Rambler (1750–52), as well as the Edinburgh periodicals of the late 18th century, the Mirror (1779–80) and the Lounger (1785–87). On the continent, the Spectator was widely translated and established the standard for several generations of essayists, its greatest impact appearing in the work of the French encyclopedists, especially Voltaire and Diderot.
After Addison, there were few gentlemen journalists. Hack writing paid the bills for most, not the least among whom were Samuel Johnson and Benjamin Franklin. Johnson along with Daniel Defoe charted the career of the professional periodical writer in his own life. In fact, Johnson and Defoe between them created and brought to its highest form the art of literary journalism, Johnson as a political conservative and Defoe as a socialist. Both contributed in very different ways to the development of the magazine, which Ben Franklin then took up in the United States. Defoe, traveling and writing journalism in France, Scotland, and Holland, essentially invented foreign correspondence in the modern sense of that term, and was the founder, editor, and sole contributor to A Review of the Affairs of France (1704–13), a periodical appearing three times a week and dedicated to bringing England to a mature understanding of international politics.
Defoe developed a Scottish edition of the Review in 1709 while he was in Edinburgh editing and writing for the Edinburgh Courant and the Scots Postman. His politically savvy style did much to advance the polemical style in periodical writing.
Samuel Johnson, in turn, developed a political awareness in his journalism through his work for the publisher Edward Cave, whose Gentleman’s Magazine, begun in 1731, had the most significant overseas influence of any English periodical after the Spectator. The Gentleman’s Magazine had an average circulation of some ten thousand readers throughout the 18th century; Johnson contributed to it as a hack writer for several years, chiefly as the “author” of its accounts of the speeches and transactions of the Houses of Parliament under the allegorically disguised heading, “Senate of Lilliput.” The essay style Johnson adopted in his early journalism for the Gentleman’s Magazine reached its fulfillment in his three subsequent periodical ventures: the Rambler (1750–52); the Universal Chronicle, a newspaper for which he wrote a column under the title of “The Idler,” in all producing a further 104 essays; and the Adventurer (1752–54), edited by John Hawkesworth, the other great English periodical writer of the mid-18th century, whose career began with the Gentleman’s Magazine.
The 1740s saw a surge in magazine production outside of England but especially in the American colonies. Following the example of the Gentleman’s Magazine and the equally successful Scots Magazine (launched in 1739 as a monthly in Edinburgh and published without interruption to this day), such periodicals as the Italian Novelle Letterarie (1740– 70; Literary news) began to appear on the continent, distinguished in large part by their attempts to emulate the impartiality of the English magazine format. However, the most significant flourishing took place across the Atlantic, mostly because the suppression of the press in Catholic Europe blocked periodical publication on the continent. In the American colonies, the first magazines were founded in turn by Benjamin Franklin and John Webbe. The proposal for Franklin’s General Magazine appeared early in 1740 and he employed Webbe as an editorial assistant. Webbe then abruptly abandoned Franklin and published his own proposal for the American Magazine on 30 October 1740. Webbe brought out his periodical first, on 13 February 1741, followed three days later by Franklin’s. Both monthlies failed after six issues, neither being able to generate a subscription list which was the financial foundation of Cave’s Gentleman’s Magazine.
Only after the American Revolution did the magazine market become stable. In 1788 Noah Webster revived Webbe’s American Magazine and in the next year published the New York Magazine (1789). Charles Brockden Brown, the first professional journalist in the United States and a successful novelist, launched his Monthly Magazine and American Review the same year, but circulation remained a problem, as he wrote in his May issue: “…it is impossible to arrest the attention of those attached to the active scene of business.” Only Mathew Carey’s American Museum, with a readership of 1200, could sustain a viable circulation.
For whatever reason, Protestants seem to have been the driving force in periodical publication from its beginning in the late 17th century. This is true even in the examples of French journalism where the Huguenot writers Peter Motteux and Jean de la Crose were the chief innovators before their exile to England. The tradition of religious commentary in Protestantism, with its emphasis on the voice of the individual, may well have contributed to the direction taken by periodical writing in English; certainly the English Protestant press took Montaigne’s essay in a very different direction as a model for journalism.
Further supporting this argument is the example of Scottish periodical writing, which from the 1770s became the source for the most striking new developments and which by the early 19th century had redirected and reinvigorated the form. William Smellie and Gilbert Stuart began this renaissance in periodical publication with their Edinburgh Magazine and Review (1773–76), which radically altered the reviewing technique then prevalent in such English magazines as the Monthly Review and the Critical Review.
Smellie and Stuart wrote reviews which continued over several issues and in which they never hesitated to express their personal positions on politics and literary taste. They attacked as they criticized and created in the process a public outcry that eventually closed down their magazine. Their style, however, served as an example for the Scottish periodicals of the subsequent generation, especially the great arbiter of literary taste, the Edinburgh Review (1802–1929) and the mercurial and innovative Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, established by the publisher William Blackwood in 1817.
Published by John Constable and edited by Francis Jeffrey, Henry Brougham, and Sydney Smith, the Edinburgh Review made and broke literary careers and, unlike the Gentleman’s Magazine, openly espoused a political position. But it was Blackwood’s, under the direction of John Gibson Lockhart, James Hogg, and John Wilson, which brought new energy to periodical publication by reviving the satirically aggressive stance of Smellie and Stuart. Blackwood’s had a flippant, even nasty, quality to its writing which generated a significant readership and numerous libel suits, in every way reminiscent of the Edinburgh Magazine and Review. It also revived the dialogue journalism of early 18th-century periodicals with particular success in its “Noctes Ambrosianae,” a series of fictional conversations set in a pub and touching on various issues of life and literature with each of the magazine’s editors adopting a different persona. Together with John Murray’s Quarterly Review, launched in February 1809 with Walter Scott as its chief contributor, this revival of the literary periodical at Scottish hands had its influence on England with the founding of the London Magazine (1820), the Westminster Review (1824), and Fraser’s Magazine (1830), the forerunner of Punch (1841).
Increasingly in the 19th century across Europe and in the United States, speciality magazines began to define the periodical. In Britain, there were the important radical and labour publications where the political nature of the English periodical most fully expressed itself. Beginning with the anti-London activist paper the Manchester Herald (1792–93), the best efforts of this kind were William Cobbett’s Evening Post (1820) and Leader (1850–60), the first periodical truly for the working man. In Italy, the periodical
marketplace was much disrupted until well into the 19th century when three influential specialist publications took root, the Annali di Matematica (1867; Annals of mathematics), the Nuovo Giornale Botanica (1869; New botanical journal), and the Giornale di Filologia Romanza (Journal of romance philology), which continued to publish into the 20th century. In France, the 19th century saw the burgeoning of art periodicals, most prominently L’Art (1875–1907). This weekly was international in its coverage and historically inclusive. So dominant was its adjudication of public taste that it effectively marginalized Impressionism in France when it damned the movement in all its works and artists in a famous review of the crucial impressionist exhibition in 1876.
L’Art inspired the English language periodical the Artist (1880–1902), a monthly directed mostly at an audience of artists and dealers to which Oscar Wilde, John Ruskin, and James McNeill Whistler contributed.
Musical periodicals have been a particular strength in German publishing from their appearance in the 19th century. Of the early examples, the most distinguished and longest running was Robert Schumann’s Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New journal for music), founded in 1834 and renamed Zeitschrift für Musik in 1920 when it was taken over by the Leipzig publisher Steingraber. Once a trendsetting periodical, it became traditional and reactionary in the 1930s. Many German musical periodicals tended to be popular publications, reflecting public taste and responding to political pressures, unlike the esoteric and specialized art magazines in France. Die Musik, established by Bernard Schuster in 1901, was the most successful of the periodicals intended for a wide and inclusive readership. It was remarkable for its variety and attention to jazz but was silenced for political reasons in 1934. Still, the dominant periodicals for musicology have
been German and were oriented entirely toward the specialist. In the 1920s, periodicals began to treat seriously the new influences of jazz and experimental music. Of these, Melos was among the first to appear, launched in 1920 by the Berlin conductor Hermann Scherchen and designed to focus on contemporary music.
In the 20th century, the periodical has spread to every literate culture and has become a crucial shaper of national identities. The present format is still recognizably derived from the first efforts of Jean de la Crose, Peter Motteux, and Edward Cave, and in its unmistakably European sensibility, the periodical’s worldwide proliferation is a lasting reminder of colonialism. Still, if the business of the periodical has usually been to create or impose community and identity on its readers, it is also within its power to dissolve community and recover identity. Periodicals, in this sense—whatever their apparent special interest, however obscure their literary or scientific bias, and despite the seeming eccentricity of their material—are always political organs. This is most obvious today in the editorial work of writers like the pan-African historian Paul Zeleza, founder of the Odi, the bilingual Malawian quarterly, and in Brick, the international literary magazine re-established by the Sri Lankan-Canadian Michael Ondaatje in the 1980s, which now specializes in creative nonfiction, a genre invented by Daniel Defoe.
At their best, periodicals have taken the modern genre of the essay and used its rhetoric of private scrutiny to fashion a public discourse that emulates conversation. The illusion in periodical writing is a simple but powerful one: the reader hears the voice of the essayist as part of a public dialogue which imparts an identity—social, national, professional—to all who acknowledge and participate in it. The best periodicals are eclectic in appearance only; they contain a wealth of information about the world through correspondence from many sources, but that variety is brought to uniformity by the authority of editorial opinion and political bias. The first British periodical of an international character, the Strand (1891–1958), with its contributions from writers across Europe, Russia, and the Americas and its combination of articles and stories, essays and fiction, was finally a testimony to the political triumph of the Commonwealth and died with the passing of that political moment. So too with the great American periodicals of the 20th century, Harper’s (1850–), the Atlantic Monthly (1857–) and the New Yorker (1925–)—they represent a political moment that will also pass. Essentially, the periodical is distinguished from its poor cousin the miscellany by its political identity; it is the literary expression of the European attraction to hegemonies.
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